Youngstown native, Ohio Participant brings the gospel and the funk | Information, Sports activities, Jobs


Staff photo / Andy Gray Billy Beck, a youngstowner by birth who now lives in Warren, is the keyboardist for the Ohio Players and has performed many of their soul / funk hits. He has just finished his first gospel album.

Billy Beck’s love for the piano began in church when he was 4 years old.

“I just got up and started playing one day after church,” he said. “I think they call it gifted.”

His latest project will bring him back to church, a gospel CD with mostly original songs called “Close 2 Thee: Vol. 1” and it will be released at the Warren Community Amphitheater at 6pm on Sunday as part of the Inspire Summer Concert Series for Red Hands Perform songs from this CD.

Beck, 67, has never left the Church in many ways. Growing up in Youngstown, he performed in several places of worship in the Mahoning Valley. Since 2000 he has been Minister of Music for the Friendship Baptist Church in Warren.

But most people know Beck as the keyboardist for the Ohio Players. He worked and played on the soul / funk hits “Love Rollercoaster”, “Fire”, “Skin Tight”, “Jive Turkey” and many others, and has also worked with artists such as Zapp, Roger Troutman and Shirley Murdock.

Several people shaped Beck’s diverse musical interests as a child. The gospel came from his parents.

“My father was a church deacon,” Beck said. “He never wanted me to play anything but gospel. Mom was happy that I was musically successful, but deep in her heart she wanted me to come back and at least do some gospel. ”

George Bretz, who taught at Youngstown State University’s Dana School of Music, saw Beck perform in church as a child and began giving him classical piano training.

“He has decided to make me his protégé,” said Beck. “He gave me lessons and never charged me a dime… I was like a sponge that just ate it up. In high school, I was offered a scholarship from Central State, but I turned it down because I didn’t want to leave Youngstown. “

It was the godfather himself who sparked his passion for the soul.

“When I was eleven, I went to see James Brown at the Stambaugh Auditorium. Oh my god, I’ve been changed forever. “

Beck was a fan of the Ohio Players before joining. The Dayton band played regularly in Youngstown in the early 1970s.

“They always had a local band open to them, and it had to be the best band in Youngstown,” said Beck. “Every time they came into town, they saw me. Different bands but the same guy. They thought there must be something about this guy. One evening I played one of their songs. Nobody does that. It got her out of the locker room. I wanted them to be careful, to know who I am, and it worked. “

Shortly thereafter, keyboardist Junie Morrison left the band and decided to go solo. Guitarist / saxophonist Clarence “Satch” Satchell invited Beck to fly to Dayton and audition for the band, using keyboards for their gigs that weekend. Beck had never been on a plane and had no interest in getting on one, but he had a couple of high school friends drive him to get on the Ohio Players bus.

“I find out they are opening to Al Green. Impressive. I didn’t have a rehearsal. I knew their songs, but I didn’t know how they arranged them on stage. (Satch said), ‘As long as you do the songs like the record, we won’t have a problem.’

“When we returned to Dayton, I asked when I was going to be paid so I could return to Youngstown. Satch looked at me and said, ‘You’re not going back.’ I just turned 20. I was the baby of the group. ”

Beck came about when the Ohio Players career was skyrocketing. The band had their first chart top R&B single “Funky Worm” the same year Beck joined the band. It went from the Detroit independent label Westbound to a major label, Mercury Records.

“Skin Tight,” the first album he recorded with the group, sold a million copies and spawned two top 10 R&B singles, “Jive Turkey” and the title track.

“‘Jive Turkey’ was the very first song I came up with,” said Beck. “We were on stage with that, just a little groove after we made a song, and Satch said, ‘Go on, don’t stop.’ We made a groove out of it, and that groove twisted and changed and became this. The first voice you hear in this song is me. ”

The Ohio Players soon switched from four-hour sets a night at nightclubs to some of the world’s biggest venues, like a concert at the Superdome in New Orleans, where they shared the stage with Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson.

And Beck quickly got over his fear of flying. Shortly after he joined, the band was booked for “Soul Train”. When he refused to fly to Los Angeles, Beck told him to get on the plane or we could get another keyboardist.

Beck stayed with the band until the late 1980s.

“There have been currency disputes,” he said. “I decided not to deal with any particular piracy that was going on. They went one way and I got more into writing and producing and started working with the Troutmans. “

Beck moved back to the area to care for his mother in the early 1990s and has lived in Warren for more than 20 years after seeing his high school girlfriend again.

He and drummer James “Diamond” Williams, the two surviving members of this classic ’70s lineup, are still touring as the Ohio Players. They had shows almost every weekend in 2019, and the schedule is filling up again as COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

“We love what we do,” said Beck.

But he is also enthusiastic about “Close 2 Thee”, which he recorded at the Tune Town Recording Studio in Newton Falls.

“Two (songs) are hymns and the rest are originals. These are all my arrangements. I do all the background vocals and the lead vocals. ”

Beck plays regularly at church, but the Sunday concert will be his first gospel show. And the award-winning musician, who played in front of tens of thousands of people and recorded albums that sold gold and platinum, admitted he was “just a little nervous” about his first gospel gig.

It won’t be his last. Beck said he’d love to play gospel shows around his Ohio Players’ dates, and pointed out that the full title of “Close 2 Thee” was a “Vol. 1 “, so there’s more music to come.

[email protected]

To propose a Saturday profile, contact Feature Editor Burton Cole at [email protected] or Metro Editor Marly Reichert at [email protected].

Get the latest news and more in your inbox